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Benzina set to make history on World Cup day five


Nouhaila Benzina could become the first player to wear a hijab at a World Cup

History could be made on day five of the Fifa Women’s World Cup if Nouhaila Benzina plays for Morocco.

The 25-year-old defender will become the first player to wear a hijab, the Islamic headscarf, at a World Cup if she features against one of the tournament favourites, Germany.

That is the second game of the day, with Italy facing Argentina, who are trying to win their first World Cup match, earlier in the morning.

Brazil, who have won all eight of their World Cup openers, get their tournament under way against debutants Panama.

Italy v Argentina

Italy v Argentina

Group G | Auckland | 07:00 BST | ITV

Italy are hoping to build on a quarter-final finish at the 2019 World Cup, which was their first time in the tournament since 1999.

But they finished bottom of their group at Euro 2022 in England with only one point.

“This World Cup is important – just as the previous one – because it does continue the growth process. We have qualified for two World Cups in a row and this is extraordinarily important for the growth in Italy,” said manager Melina Bertolini.

“Our movement keeps growing. It’s a very young movement; it’s still fragile.”

TheItaly squad includes 16-year-old Barcelona midfielder Giulia Dragoni.

Argentina have never won a sanctioned Women’s World Cup match, losing all six games before 2019 and picking up two points in 2019, including a 3-3 draw with Scotland.

Captain and goalkeeper Vanina Correa, 39, has been in the squad for all four of the tournaments, including this one.

In the non-Fifa-sanctioned 1971 World Cup, Argentina, who beat England 4-1 in the group stage, lost 4-0 to Italy in the third-place play-off. That is their only previous meeting.

Argentina have bounced back well considering they did not play a game between 2015 and 2017, when they lost their Fifa ranking for inactivity.

Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: This is another game I am really looking forward to, and again it should be close. I am going with Italy to edge it, so Argentina will have to wait a little longer for their first World Cup finals win. 2-1.

Key stat: Argentina have failed to score in 67% of their Women’s World Cup games (6/9), the highest percentage among the teams who have played more than six games in the competition.

Germany v Morocco

Germany v Morocco

Group H | Melbourne | 09:30 BST | ITV

Morocco become the first Arab team to play at a Women’s World Cup, with captain Ghizlane Chebbak saying: “We feel that we have to shoulder a big responsibility to show a good image, and to show the achievements that the Moroccan football team has made in terms of progress by qualifying.

“This is a great milestone for us and we hope that our match with Germany will pave the way for other matches.”

Team-mate Benzina, who plays her club football in Morocco, will become the first player to wear a hijab at a senior women’s tournament if she plays. The hijab was authorised by Fifa in 2014.

There are 70 places between the teams in the Fifa rankings, with Germany second in the world.

German coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said: “All the games are tight. Women’s football teams have come ever closer.

“All the countries coming here are not only proud to be at the World Cup, but they absolutely have the quality to play here and to pose problems.”

Germany have injury doubts over key players Marina Hegering and Lena Oberdorf.

Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: I can see Germany winning big here. They will still be hurting from losing last year’s Euros final, but they will use it in a good way – to fire themselves up.

In their eyes, I am sure it has been too long since they last won a World Cup – they were back-to-back champions in 2003 and 2006 – so that’s their target this time.

Defeat won’t end Morocco’s chances of getting out of the group and I’d love to see them emulate their men’s team, who reached the semi-finals in Qatar last year, but that is obviously a huge ask. 4-0.

Key stat: Germany’s goal difference in World Cup openers is 34-3. Two of the four instances a team have scored at least 10 goals in a Women’s World Cup game were Germany in their opening game (11-0 v Argentina in 2007 and 10-0 v Ivory Coast in 2015).

Brazil v Panama

Brazil v Panama

Group F | Adelaide | 12:00 BST | ITV

Football royalty Brazil have won the Copa America Femenina eight times but are yet to win a World Cup, finishing second in 2007.

Marta could become the first player – man or woman – to score in six World Cups – although there is no guarantee the 37-year-old will start.

Coach Pia Sundhage said: “We’re not picking the two best forwards. We will pick forwards who connect with each other.”

Panama are ranked 52nd in the world and this is their first World Cup.

“We know everything about Panama. I’ve been watching; the assistant coach has been watching so many games,” said Sundhage.

Forward Riley Tanner was born and raised in the United States but played for her mother’s homeland Panama.

Her team-mates call her ‘Frozen’ because of her supposed resemblance to the cartoon’s blonde character Elsa.

She told the BBC swapping shirts with Marta after the game would be “a dream come true”.

“I am super star-struck,” said Tanner, who made her Panama debut only this year.

“It’s all happened pretty quickly. I went from only visiting Canada and a mission trip to Costa Rica to flying all the way across the world to play in a World Cup qualifier in New Zealand, so it’s just crazy.”

Rachel Brown-Finnis’ prediction: I rarely get to watch Brazil in action but I can’t wait to see both these teams – there’s no way this one will end up as a goalless draw. 3-1.

Key stat: Brazil legend Marta is the top scorer at the Women’s World Cup, with 17 goals in 20 matches.

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